Practical Ways to Invite Faith
To wrap up this series of posts on inviting the act of faith, I would like to end with some very practical pointers. To use the language of Simon Sinek, up until now I have primarily been dealing with the "Why" - why inviting the act of faith is important. This post will address the "How" and "What." Six bullet points will answer the question, "How do we go about inviting the act of faith?" followed by three concrete examples of, "What are some specific ways this can be done?"
HOW DO WE INVITE THE ACT OF FAITH?
What follows are six guidelines to keep in mind when inviting people to make an act of faith based on the uniquely Catholic perspective that I have been exploring throughout this series.
1. Speak openly and often about commitment to Christ
Make the idea of commitment to Christ part of the normal mental paradigm within your community. This idea of commitment to Christ can be expressed in manifold ways. Sherry Weddell's Catherine of Siena Institute is fond of describing it as a "drop the nets" moment based on Matthew 12:22. I heard Curtis Martin recently talk about St. John's "4 o'clock" moment when he met Jesus based on John 1:39. Martin followed up by giving the image of an on/off switch in the heart - you are either "on" with Jesus or "off," there is no in between. Many more examples could be given. The main point is to communicate that this is not an optional part of Christianity but the very foundation of what it means to be a disciple.
2. Provide specific opportunities
In addition to speaking openly and often about commitment to Christ, it is important to provide specific opportunities for people to make this commitment. It is Christ who calls, but we are "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:20) and can be the mouthpiece for his invitation ("He who hears you, hears me" - Luke 10:16). This can be done in many different settings. It can be done while speaking to a large group of people (like the Sunday homily), or it can be in a one-on-one conversation. It could be done in a blog post or a Youtube video. It could be something we encourage people to do right then and there, or on their own time and in their own space.
3. Make it an invitation, not a commandment
Making a commitment to Christ may be likened to the kind of commitment made in marriage, which is lifelong covenant relationship. And just as a free decision is necessary to enter into marriage, so an authentic commitment to Christ is one that is made in freedom. Is it necessary? Does it carry eternal consequences? Yes, but it is still a relationship and must follow the dynamics of genuine relationship. The role of an evangelist is primarily that of a matchmaker - we bring people to Jesus and allow him to woo them.
Closely related to this point...
4. Let them determine their own readiness
St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:3, "No one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." There is a work of grace that must happen in each soul for it to be ready to make a free, conscious commitment to Christ. We cannot determine someone's readiness from the outside. However, what we can do is help them identify the stirring of the Spirit in their own hearts. Some of the ways I have heard this done well is to include statements like, "If while I have been speaking, you have felt something resonating deep within you, or your heart rate quickening, know that that's the Holy Spirit who is pulling on your heart strings and urging you on to Jesus." Perhaps equally important is helping them identify the voice of the Accuser who would like to keep them from taking the plunge. To address this, one might say, "Maybe you want to give your life to Jesus but you're being reminded of all the bad things you've done and feel like Jesus would never accept you. That is the voice of the Enemy who would like to keep you from Jesus, but Jesus only has words of love and acceptance for you and can wipe away your past in a heartbeat."
While helping them sort out what is going on inside their hearts, the fundamental task of saying, "Yes, I am ready to give my life to Jesus," still lies completely with the individual.
5. There may be a time for urgency, but never fear
I include this largely because of some of the ways I have seen fear used to extend an invitation to Christ in the past. The classic example is the question, "If you were to die in a car accident tomorrow, do you know you would go to heaven?" I am uncomfortable with this approach because of it seems to border on manipulation, and because any decision made out of fear is by definition not a free decision. And yet I recognize that there may be a time to instill a sense of urgency behind the invitation. This sense of urgency should first come from a recognition of the ready availability of grace - "Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation!" (2 Corinthians 6:2). But the reality is that some also choose to delay a commitment to Christ unnecessarily, and a gentle prodding and carefully placed sense of urgency may be appropriate at times.
6. Be ready to help them with their "next steps"
An initial commitment to Christ can be a very fragile thing and needs follow-up support. This is a life re-orienting decision and those who make it can be likened to spiritual infants who need to learn to walk and speak all over again. I think one of the difficulties presented to us in the Catholic world is that we have catechized our parishioners without first evangelizing them. This means that they have book-knowledge of a lot of the "higher-level" tools of living out the faith, but these have never been seated within a framework of relationship with Christ. This is why many Protestant/Evangelical converts to Catholicism are mesmerized by the richness of Catholic teaching while cradle Catholics are largely bored with it - the converts are already bringing a relationship-with-Christ framework with them. For cradle Catholics, there is a need to re-learn, and even to un-learn, much of what they have taken for granted for most of their lives.
WHAT ARE EXAMPLES OF SPECIFIC APPROACHES?
Having laid out some of the guidelines for how to make this invitation, I thought I would provide three specific examples of these guidelines in action in three different settings.
I. During the Sunday homily
The best way I have seen this done in a homily is to lead the entire congregation in a repeat-after-me prayer. Some may be making this kind of prayer for the first time, while for some it will be a re-commitment. Set it up in just such a way, that people are invited to pray whether it's their first time or they are just wanting to deepen or reaffirm their faith. I like this approach in contrast to a "stand up to make this commitment" because it allows a certain sense of privacy (as an introvert, this is important to people like me!). As follow-up, have teams available after Mass to speak to anyone who would like to get plugged into a small group.
II. One on one
A friend of mine, Chris, was involved with youth ministry in his Catholic parish as a teen. One of the young adult leaders had developed a connection with him over time and one day ventured to ask him, "Have you given your life to Jesus?" Chris responded no, so the leader asked, "Well, what's holding you back?" Chris responded honestly by saying, "I just don't want to end up being a dork" (because in his mind being serious about Jesus was equated with being a dork!). The leader simply responded, "Well, do you think I'm a dork?" That was the mental hurdle that Chris needed to let go of his resistance to really embracing faith in Jesus fully!
III. In a retreat setting
Another friend, Craig, went on a camping trip with Campus Crusade for Christ in college. He had been having conversations with one of the leaders about what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus, but until then it had simply been theory. At this point, Craig was still doubtful even about the existence of God, but was genuinely seeking Him. During this camping trip (which was also part retreat), the participants were given some time for solitude to wrestle with what it would mean to put your faith in Jesus. Craig found a quiet spot by the lake and began to wrestle with this idea and to ask himself that question, "Could I give my life to Christ?" After a long time of finding himself unable to make that leap, Craig cried out in frustration, "I give up!!!" He immediately sensed God's presence with him and experienced Him as very much real and very much alive. This encounter with Christ was the pivotal turning point that set Craig's life on the path of Christian discipleship. Craig now serves as an overseas missionary.
Share your story! Does your story include being invited to put your faith in Jesus by a friend or a preacher? How did they go about it? What led you to accept that invitation?
This is the eighth and final post in a series on “Inviting the Act of Faith.” The full series can be accessed below:
- Part One: Inviting the Act of Faith: Introduction
- Part Two: Faith, the Pledge of Salvation
- Part Three: Once Saved, Always Saved?
- Part Four: Faith and Encounter
- Part Five: Going “All In” with God
- Part Six: What Does Rescue Look Like?
- Part Seven: A Major Lacuna in Catholic Ministry
- Part Eight: Practical Ways to Invite Faith